Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What to Eat at Fish Restaurants

I am currently in Istanbul, Turkey with my family for the holidays and won't be cooking much while here. We have an amazing lady who cooks for us and helps out around the house, and with the fridge always brimming with yummy Turkish food, there's no need for me to cook. I thought it would be fun for me to share some tips for eating out at different restaurants. 

One of my favorite restaurants to eat at in Istanbul are the fish restaurants. The Turkish appetizers, or meze, are my favorite though I do enjoy the fresh fish as well. The meze, combined with the fried 'ara sicak' (hot appetizers), fish, bread and alcohol can really add up though and leave you feeling totally stuffed upon leaving. Here is how I navigate this challenge. 

Decide beforehand what you want to eat. 
This goes for any restaurant really. Decide beforehand what you want to splurge on, so you have a plan of attack. This really works for me. For example, some days I will feel like eating only meze, and some days I feel like skipping the meze and having a larger serving of fish. If you decide beforehand, you won't end up eating everything placed in front of you (which can be tough, since the waiters usually serve you!). This goes for alcohol too- decide how many glasses of raki (ouzo) or wine you want to have, and try to stick to it. 

Yogurtlu semizotu (yogurt with purslane) Photo Credit

Stay away from the bread basket. 
This really goes without saying, but those little slices of toasted bread that keep appearing fresh on the table really add up! And even worse, many fish restaurants here serve cornbread instead of normal bread, which has twice as many calories as normal bread. Your best bet here is to ask if they have wheat bread; no need to eat white bread if they do indeed have wheat bread. Then, what I like to do, is take a piece of bread, and try to make it last throughout dinner. Or if you have decided two pieces is good for you, take two pieces and place them on your plate and work with them throughout the meal. 

Fill up on salad. 
Another great tip to silence the call of the bread basket is to immediately begin filling up on salad. One of the best things about fish restaurants is the fact that they offer gorgeous fresh salads. You can get the çoban salata (chef's salad) which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and parsley in an olive oil-lemon dressing or the arugula salad (my favorite) which is arugula, tomatoes and (optional) feta. As long as you don't go crazy with the olive oil, you can eat as much of this as you want. Filling up on salad is a great way to get your daily nutrients as well. 

çoban salata (Shephard's salad); Photo credit

Choose wisely. 
Some of the options at a fish restaurant are actually really smart. The roasted eggplant puree, yogurt dishes and olive oil based vegetable dishes are all really great choices. Watch out with the large triangles of feta that are sometimes served as they are more than 2 servings worth. 

Skip the fried stuff. 
The 'ara sicak' (hot appetizers) are usually less healthy than the main meze. Some options include fried calamari, börek (phyllo dough pastry) and güveç (butter sautéed shrimp covered in cheese). I would recommend skipping these dishes and waiting on the main course. Of course, if calamari is your favorite, then factor it into your meal, but skip something else you don't care about so much (like maybe the feta cheese). 

Izgara levrek (grilled sea bass) Photo credit

Grilled fish beats other options. 
When it comes to the main course, grilled fish is your best bet. I love getting grilled sea bass. Some other options include fried fish and those who don't like fish can always go with Turkish meatballs. But the healthiest option is grilled fish, and if you are full by the time the mains come along, you can always share. 

Go with the fruit. 
When it comes to dessert, though fresh fruit is always best, sometimes you want something a little more indulgent. There are two tricks I like to employ. First off, desserts made using fruit are usually much healthier than those without. For example, kabak tatlisi consists of pumpkin so it's a better choice than chocolate soufflé. Also, keep in mind that the first 2 bites are always the most satisfying, so you don't need to necessarily eat the whole thing. 

My favorite Turkish fish restaurants
Balikci Sabahattin
Karakoy Lokantasi
Bebek Balikci
Balikci Kahraman
Doga Balik


  1. Love this post - you just made me so hungry! Wish I could be in Istanbul eating fresh fish right now!

  2. Aww:) Thanks for stopping by honey! Miss you!!


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